A superb crowd of 15,224, basking in the Avignon sun, saw favourites France open their Alitalia European Cup campaign with a resounding 10-try victory over Ireland.
Skipper Olivier Elima led the way for Bobbie Goulding’s men with a four touchdown haul, including a late brace, as stand off Tony Gigot and hooker Kane Bentley bossed the midfield.
Catalan Dragon Gigot was all class, his deft offloads, particularly near the Irish line causing problems throughout, while Kane Bentley’s direct running out of dummy half kept the visitors on the back foot for long spells.
Up front for the Tricolores. Jamal Fakir made his presence felt at prop and loose forward Jason Baitieri, on debut, was rewarded for an industrious display with a try on the hour while Remi Casty was a constant threat.
Halves, skipper Scott Grix, in particular, and Liam Finn constantly probed for Andy Kelly’s men but – after a promising start - too much dropped ball ultimately cost them.
After some typically ferocious midfield exchanges to open proceedings, Ireland were first on the scoreboard, exploiting the right hand side.
Scott Grix’s long pass put brother Simon into space, he found Finn in support who cleverly sent Sean Hesketh stepping inside Jean Phillipe Baile for the opening touchdown, Greg McNally goaling.
Four tries in 13 minutes on the back of a surfeit of possession put France in control as Ireland surrendered possession on the back of penalties.
From a scrum on the home ten metre line, Kane Bentley’s short pass sent Casty bullocking over close to the posts and, after Scott Grix had lost the ball in his own half and Fakir gone close, Gigot’s pass allowed Teddy Sadaoui to power over to give France the lead; Maxime Grésèque landing his second conversion.
With France characteristically offloading out the tackle to great effect, Gigot was taken high and, from the penalty, Nicolas Munoz and Andrew Bentley combined for Sadaoui to give linking full back Cyril Stacul a chance in the corner that he did well to take, Grésèque landing the touchline goal.
With Andrew Bentley making good yards, Baitieri and Grésèque sent Elima through a hole and in for his first and at 24-6 in 23 minutes, the hosts looked ominous.
They lost Grésèque to a quadriceps injury soon afterwards and Ireland staged a fight back in the run up to the break.
Scott Grix’s 40/20 set up the position for McNally’s long pass to send John Gillam over and then the stand off’s quick thinking with a tap penalty allowed Finn to put Jamie O’Callaghan in as he went through Stacul.
Both conversions were missed by McNally but Scott Grix then forced a drop out, the French defence holding well and, in the closing minute, Simon Grix’s grubber to the in goal just eluded McNally who was deemed offside.
At 24-14 ahead at the break, the hosts extended their lead two minutes into the second period after a Scott Grix shallow chip over on the last tackle was fumbled by brother Simon, Gigot collecting and racing 45 metres to the posts, Munoz converting.
Finn forced a drop out when his kick off the post was scrambled dead by Stacul but again successive penalties saw France back on the attack, Casty losing the ball in the act of scoring from Baitieri’s short pass.
That only delayed the seemingly inevitable, Kane Bentley’s grubber forcing a knock on and Matthew Fox knocking the ball down from Gigot’s pass to Elima.
From the resulting scrum on the Ireland ten, Fakir’s superb offload allowed Andrew Bentley to scamper in.
Casty’s runs pushed Ireland back and Gigot’s lovely short ball saw Elima in for his second.
In a rare sortie, O’Callaghan was forced into touch by the corner flag from Finn’s pass, Gigot sending Baitieri over with a lovely short ball in response to make it 48-14.
Ireland rallied commendably with two tries in three minutes, Simon Grix’s grubber forcing Stacul to knock on, Tim Bergin re-gathering before the ball was swept to the left and Luke Ambler’s fine pass allowed Gillam to go over out wide for his second touchdown.
From the re-start, Scott Grix’s wonderful flicked offload was snaffled up the middle by Bob Beswick and he sent McNally clear, Finn adding the extras.
France rallied with two late scores both from Bradford-bound Elima, the first given by the video referee when he charged over from acting half back close in, Munoz missing the sole shot at goal by the hosts, Casty’s offload then sending his skipper over for his fourth try of a convincing win.
France Chanticleers 58 defeated
Tries: Casty (10), Sadaoui (15), Stacul (19), Elima (23, 55, 76, 78), Gigot (42), Andrew Bentley (50), Baitieri (61)
Goals: Grésèque 4, Munoz 5
Ireland Wolfhounds 24
Tries: Hesketh (7), Gillam (27, 68), O'Callaghan (31), McNally (71)
Goals: McNally, Finn
Half time: 24-14
Referee: Phil Bentham (England)